For the love of creative education Written by Nigel Ball, Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design at the University of Suffolk

Published on September 24, 2023

For the love of creative education -

Dear Ipswich, I trust you are well.

In the mid-1980s, many years before I moved to Ipswich, I dropped out of 6th form within a couple of months of starting A levels. I was never particularly happy at school and struggled academically; undiagnosed dyslexia and a distrust of authority figures probably fed into my then negative view of education. I certainly had no intention of going to university.

By the time I moved to Ipswich in the 1990s, I was working as a low-paid print worker, and in my spare time I created artwork for the various bands and social-justice groups I was involved with. I thought that was my lot.

Then one revelatory day during a period of unemployment, it dawned on me like a bolt out of the blue that the sort of artwork I was doing was called graphic design, and I wondered why none of my art teachers at school told me this and advised me to go to college rather than take A levels.

This revelation also bought the realisation that people were employed to do this sort of thing for a living, rather than do it as a hobby as I was doing. Secretly knowing that I preferred making the posters and record sleeves for the bands I was playing in more than I enjoyed playing in the bands themselves, I jumped on my bike and cycled to Suffolk College to investigate courses in graphic design.

A few weeks later I was completely amazed that a hastily cobbled together portfolio of scrappy do-it-yourself punk and agit-prop inspired artwork and photography got me a place on a course, and that was the moment the future direction of my life changed.

Ipswich’s civic college nurtured me, it opened my eyes to new possibilities and awoke new ambitions. The many excellent tutors and technicians that I spent 3 years with inspired me to think bigger than I had ever thought before, to have some self-belief, and importantly, to consider my future beyond my immediate life circumstances. For the first time, I saw the real value of education and I have been an advocate for life-long learning ever since.

After graduating and a few years of working as a graphic designer, I applied for a job lecturing at Suffolk College on FE art and design courses, and I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to teach.

4 years later came a jump to Higher Education when University Campus Suffolk, (now the University of Suffolk), opened its doors in 2007. I found myself lecturing on the very same degree course I had graduated from.

I feel very honoured to have worked with so many students over the last 20 years—young and old minds alike looking to see where their creativity can take them in life. It is also a privilege to be part of a long history of arts education in Ipswich, something the town has provided since its first art school was established in 1859.

In these days when our creative industries, and the education that feeds them, are so undervalued by government, it is more important than ever to stand up for our arts and humanities courses. And particularly ones in provincial towns like Ipswich.

Viva la Art School, long live creative education in Ipswich!

Nigel Ball
Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design at the University of Suffolk

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